Policy Study

Weighted Student Formula Yearbook 2013

Examining the results in districts using portable student funding

The Houston Independent School District scored an A+ thanks to significant test score improvements by disadvantaged students and a significant closing of the achievement gap between affluent and low-income students, according to Reason Foundation’s new Weighted Student Formula Yearbook.

Examining 14 school districts currently using portable student funding, the Weighted Student Formula Yearbook grades and ranks each district in 10 categories, including test scores, achievement gaps, graduation rates, and transparency.

“Some of the country’s largest school districts are now using portable or backpack funding systems that allow money to follow students to their schools,” said Lisa Snell, co-author of the report and director of education at Reason Foundation. “This study gives us the ability to make apples-to-apples comparisons, identify what’s helping kids, and flag what may need to be done differently.”

Houston outperformed all other districts, scoring an A+ in the rankings due in large part to an impressive reduction in achievement gaps. Hartford, Cincinnati and Oakland were the other districts earning A grades. Minneapolis, San Francisco, Boston and Poudre (CO) received B grades. Baltimore’s poor proficiency rates in reading, math, and science along with large achievement gaps between students of different income levels resulted in the report’s only F. The study’s rankings and grades are:

1. Houston Independent School District A+
2. Hartford Public School District A
3. Cincinnati Public School District A-
4. Oakland Public School District A-
5. Poudre Public School District B+
6. Minneapolis Public School District B
7. San Francisco Unified School District B
8. Boston City Public School District B-
9. St. Paul Public School District C+
10. Prince George’s County School District C
11. Denver Public School District C
12. Newark Public School District C-
13. Milwaukee Public School District D
14. Baltimore Public School District F

The study recommends a series of “best practices” for districts, including publishing school report cards for parents, using performance-based pay for teachers and principals, allowing students to enroll in any school in the district, and giving principals control over their hiring and budgets.

“It is important to give principals control and autonomy over their budgets,” said Katie Furtick, co-author of the report and policy analyst at Reason Foundation. “One of our very promising findings suggests that the larger the share of a district’s budget that goes directly to the schools on a per-student basis, the better the performance. Holding all else constant, a school district that allocated 50 percent of its 2011 budget to weighted student formula, where money follows the student, was nearly 10 times more likely to close achievement gaps than a district that only allocated 20 percent of its 2011 budget to weighted student formula.”

Weighted Student Formula Yearbook 2013: Overview (.pdf)
Weighted Student Formula Yearbook 2013: Best Practices (.pdf)
Weighted Student Formula Yearbook 2013: Methodology (.pdf)

District case studies from the Weighted Student Formula Yearbook:

Baltimore Public Schools (.pdf)
Boston Public Schools (.pdf)
Cincinnati Public Schools (.pdf)
Denver Public Schools (.pdf)
Hartford Public Schools (.pdf)
Houston Independent School District (.pdf)
Milwaukee Public Schools (.pdf)
Minneapolis Public Schools (.pdf)
Newark Public Schools (.pdf)
New York City Department of Education (.pdf)
Oakland Unified School District (.pdf)
Poudre School District (.pdf)
Prince George’s County Public Schools (.pdf)
Saint Paul Public Schools (.pdf)
San Francisco Unified School District (.pdf)

Lisa Snell is the director of education and child welfare at Reason Foundation, a nonprofit think tank advancing free minds and free markets.

Snell has frequently testified before the California State Legislature and numerous other state legislatures and government agencies. She has authored policy studies on school finance and weighted student funding, universal preschool, school violence, charter schools, and child advocacy centers.

Snell is a frequent contributor to Reason magazine, School Reform News and Privatization Watch. Her writing has also appeared in Education Week, Edutopia, The Wall Street Journal, USA Today, San Francisco Chronicle, Orange County Register, Los Angeles Times, and numerous other publications.

Ms. Snell is also an advisory board member to the National Quality Improvement Center for the Children's Bureau; is on the charter school accreditation team for the American Academy for Liberal Education; and serves as a board member for the California Virtual Academy.

Before joining Reason Foundation, Snell taught public speaking and argumentation courses at California State University, Fullerton. She earned a Master of Arts in communication from California State University, Fullerton.

Katie Furtick is a policy analyst at the Reason Foundation, where her research focuses on regulatory issues, education policy, and school choice.

Ms. Furtick has worked with state think tanks and policymakers at the state- and federal-level to improve transparency, accountability, and equity in education finance. She has authored policy studies on weighted student funding, charter schools, school choice, and school finance reform. Her work on weighted student funding has been featured in The Washington Post and the San Francisco Examiner along with several other publications and public policy think tanks.

Ms. Furtick previously worked to improve government accountability and measure the statewide impact of fiscal and economic policies and practices as a research analyst at Florida TaxWatch. Ms. Furtick holds a master's degree in applied economics, as well as a bachelor's degree in english literature and economics from Florida State University.